With the election of Tom Elliff as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Marge Malone made history by serving as secretary to three men who have served the SBC as its highest elected official.
Malone, who retired recently as pastor's secretary at First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., has not only been secretary, but advisor, friend and constant source of encouragement to Elliff, Bailey Smith (SBC president, 1981-82) and James T. Draper Jr. (SBC president, 1983-84). Another former pastor of Del City, John Bisagno, as well as Elliff served as president of the SBC Pastors' Conference, and Smith was president of the Oklahoma state convention in 1979.
"I have never known a staff member anywhere in any capacity who was kept by every successive pastor," said Bisagno, who hired Malone 31 years ago. "All the pastors saw such marvelous skills, spirit and gifts in this woman, that they said, 'Let's keep Marge.'"
Because of the positions her "bosses" have held in the SBC, Marge's voice is recognized by secretaries, pastors and Convention leaders across the country. "There are very few people in the Convention who don't know Marge," said Elliff. "She's raised three pastors and is working on a fourth," laughed First Southern's current pastor.
A graduate of Wewoka (Okla.) High School, Malone attended business college in Tulsa and took her first job with Alexander Wholesale Drug Company in Oklahoma City. She quit work for a while after her daughter, Donna Ruth, was born, but returned to work as secretary at Wilmont Place Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Then followed 10 years working for Guy Bellamy, superintendent for Negro and Indian work for the Home Mission Board, who had offices in the Baptist Building in Oklahoma City.
In 1965, she was employed by Bisagno as his secretary. She worked for him five years until he resigned to become pastor of First Baptist Church, Houston. Bisagno was followed by Draper, 1970-73. He moved from First Southern to First Baptist Church, Dallas, then to First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas, and now serves as president of the Sunday School Board in Nashville.
Following Draper was Bailey Smith, who was pastor from 1973-85. He resigned to begin an evangelism ministry headquartered in Atlanta. Elliff, Smith's brother-in-law, moved from Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colo., to become pastor in 1986.
Draper noted "no one ever served with more skill, more devotion and more effectiveness. Her godly character and compassionate heart is still a great blessing to all of our family," Draper said. "She is a remarkable person to have survived Johnny Bisagno, Jimmy Draper, Bailey Smith and Tom Elliff."
Elliff said Malone's 47-year-old daughter has multiple sclerosis, and after working with Donna until 10:30 p.m. and sometimes getting up in the night two or three times with her, she is always on the job the next morning. Malone's husband, Don, died in 1974.
Admitting he doesn't have the vocabulary to adequately describe Malone, Elliff said she is known around First Southern for her willing heart and hands and her discreet, confidential nature. "She is everybody's friend, faithful and constant," he said. "She is gracious, but persistent. She will get the job done, whatever it takes." He said she can get people on the phone even if they are "unavailable."
Why has someone who will be 74 in August stayed at the same job so long? "I have never considered this a job," Malone said. "It's been a joy to work here. I've had no desire to quit." Malone said the job has been filled with excitement. "There's always an aura of expectation. Each of the pastors has a gift to make people respond." She recalled that the first time she was given a list of people to call for volunteer assignments, everyone she talked to responded positively. "You won't find that happening in many churches," she said.
Malone refused to compare the pastors she's worked with, but said although each is an individual, all had visions for First Southern, and "it was a joy to assist in the development of those visions."